Hertz had a very limited number of Range Rover Sport models in the Dream Collection part of their US fleet a couple of years ago. They were very popular and on the rare occasions that I saw one parked up, it was always reserved for someone else. And then at the end of their rental time, they disappeared, and were not replaced. Until now. On my March 2017 trip, I first spotted them back on fleet at the Phoenix Sky Harbor location. Most of them were on California plates, so I reasoned that they would probably also have them at Los Angeles Airport, and that I would be likely to be able to get one for a slightly better rate if I were to wait til I got there. Sure enough, there were a number parked up. I ascertained that, unlike the lesser models from the Land-Rover range which Hertz have also acquired, they are all black, not my most favourite colour when it comes to photography. Even so, the temptation to upgrade to one for a day was too much, and on a day when a couple were parked up, I asked if they were available. They were, and my friends at Hertz LAX then told me, almost playfully, that they would choose which one I could have – with a nudge and a wink. When they went into to get the key I spotted that the two in front of me were in fact different versions: one was an HSE Dynamic and the other one bore the badge “Supercharged” on its tailgate. Needless to say, this was the one which I was offered. How nice it is, to have people who really know their customers and look after them so well!
Whilst the SVR may have got all the limelight on its release a couple of years after the rest of the range arrived, the reality is that the Supercharged model is not far behind it in terms of power. Or, probably, noise. You get a wapping 510 bhp from a 5.0 litre V8 engine. Not surprisingly, this proved to be a fabulous engine. The goodness starts when you fire it up. The place where it was parked at the Hertz facility is outdoors, but under open-sided roof cover, so whilst you don’t get the full set of reverberations and echoes that you would from somewhere fully enclosed, the setting certainly helped with the aural pleasure even before I had engaged a gear and moved off. The noise was enough to tell me that my $$$ upgrade was going to feel like money well spent and that I was going to enjoy my time with this car. Out on the road, with that rumbling V8 sounding somewhat subdued compared to the initial start up, the Range-Rover Sport will trickle along in the traffic very readily, revealing little of what is waiting for you when you get to the open road. In Los Angeles, that can take some time and distance, of course, and that was certainly the case for this test. Every time you flex your right foot, even just a little bit, there is a wonderful noise which is a combination of a growl and a roar, from which I don’t think you would ever tire. It is not so obtrusive as to be wearing on a journey, but nor is it so muted that you feel short-changed. Just right in other words. At a steady speed, the engine noise vanishes almost completely, and you just get a very refined cruiser, with nothing to disturb the occupants apart from their own conversation or the sound system. There are 8 gears in the automatic gearbox, apparently, though counting them all as you accelerated away proved very difficult, and sensing them was also hard, since the changes of ratio were extremely smooth and very rapid. With so much torque available, it does not really matter what gear you are on, there will be almost brutal levels of acceleration from your current speed til the point when you decide that enough probably ought to be enough. If you want to change the gears yourself, there are paddles mounted behind the wheel. or you can flock the gearlever into manual mode. Unlike some JLR products, you do get a conventional looking gearlever here, mounted on the centre console. It has a button on the top of the rear-facing surface which you press to engage Park, and was definitely less cumbersome to use than the ones you get in contemporary BMW and Mercedes vehicles. Without access to any private facilities, it was never going to be possible to find out just what this machine can do, but you can get a sensation without doing anything to attract unwanted conversations with the CHPD or the Sheriff. And wow! There is really no other phrase. This is a very rapid device indeed. I feared it would also prove to be a very thirsty one. Driven hard, I am sure it will be. But be a bit more restrained, which is something that traffic may force you to be, and you may be pleasantly surprised. There is a Stop/Start system, which works unobtrusively and which re-fired the engine very rapidly when you needed it, and this may have helped when in traffic. After driving 275 miles, I needed to put 13.38 gallons back in to fill it up, which computes to 20.55 mpg US or 24.55 mpg Imperial, which was not as thirsty as I was expecting.
Although the “S” in “SUV” supposedly stands for “Sport”, the reality is that most SUVs are not exactly sporty to drive. A lot of weight and a high centre of gravity militate against that, for starters. But in this sector of the market, where your rivals are cars like the Porsche Macan and Cayenne, something that is not just fast in a straight line, but good to pilot on less than straight roads is required, and Land-Rover have, by and large delivered. Perhaps most importantly, they have managed to make a car which is undeniably large and heavy feel like it is neither of those things. This may be a large machine, but from behind the wheel, it does not feel it (apart from the high seating position). It is not in the slightest intimidating to drive, and thanks to the array of parking sensors and all round cameras, not as difficult to park as you would fear. Nor is it heavy to pilot. The electrically assisted steering has just the right amount of weighting to it, and whilst it lacks the final few shades of precision that you get in smaller hatches like a Ford Focus, it is a pretty good set-up, with plenty of feedback as to what the steered wheels are doing in response to you turning the wheel. There is some lean on the corners, an almost inevitable consequence of the design of the car and its centre of gravity, and if you tackle the bends with a modicum of enthusiasm, you will find that the Sport understeers, but it is all very controllable, and there are plenty of electronics which will do their level best if they think you are going to get into trouble. Suspension is by aluminium double wishbones and multi-links along with height adjustable air springs and continuously variable dampers. All bar the entry level SE trimmed cars get a low-range transfer box, active roll bars torque vectoring and a locking rear differential as part of the standard specification, all of which help with the handling. The test car was fitted with 255/55 R20 wheels, among the smaller of the various sizes available. They certainly enabled the Range Rover Sport to ride with a smoothness and a pliancy which, combined with the long-legged cruising meant that this was a comfortable express on-road, which is where Sports will spend almost all of their time. There’s a lot of car to stop here, but the brakes felt well up to it, not that I had cause to test them in any form of emergency. An electronic parking brake, with a button on the centre console, is fitted. Visibility is generally good. For a start, you do sit higher than a lot of cars on the road. There is a good field of view from the door mirrors, which had a blind spot warning system incorporated, and there was a rear-view camera which projected an image on to the central display screen. The door mirrors tilt down when reverse is selected, and there are parking sensors all around to help you. Despite the fact that the rear side windows appear very heavily tinted from the outside, there are no issues when looking from the inside out. There was a heated front screen (an option, I believe) and the heating elements were just visible at times, but were really not an issue and there would be benefits from this feature in cold weather, for sure. Out on the road, the car is easy to position, despite its relative bulk.
It goes without saying these days that the interior of the Range-Rover Sport is beautifully appointed and finished. Buyers of this class expect nothing less, and in this case, they are unlikely to be disappointed by what they get, which I think looks better than the insides of most, if not all of the German rivals. Rich-looking materials abound throughout the cabin. Leather trims the majority of the dash, the steering wheel and the door casings and there are a range of inlays available to personalise the look of your car, with a gloss black finish to the central part of the dash and console, lined with matt chrome edging. Plush looking leather seats are as good to look at as they are to sit on. Fit and finish is exemplary. The dashboard contains a lot of buttons, but the overall effect is far from busy looking. The instrument panel is all digital and just shows as a blank black screen until the ignition is switched on. Under the single cowl, there are two round TFT dials, for rev counter and speedo, with water temperature and fuel level set in the lower portions of them, respectively. Between them is an area for digital info displays, separated into three layers. The central portion is the largest and is used to show the next navigation instruction, or details of what is playing on the audio unit. The top part contains an area for warning lights, including the lane departure warning graphic and the bottom bit the odometer and trip information. The recognised speed limit sign and also any other warnings such as “no overtaking” signs are projected into the speedo unit. There are twin column stalks, both with lots of markings on them, to explain their operation, with lights operated from the indicator stalk on the left and the front and rear wipers operated by the right hand stalk. The steering wheel hub contains infotainment repeaters on the left set of buttons and the cruise control settings on the right. The central part of the dash contains a nicely integrated 8″ colour touch-sensitive display screen that sits between a pair of air vents. The graphics on this are crisp and clear. It is used to show audio selections, car settings and the navigation system as well as a series of data points, such as Eco Advice (yes, really, even in this car!) and what is called InControl Apps which brings many of your favourite apps – such as music, audiobooks, and travel guides – from your smartphone to the touch-screen display. I found the system a bit slow to move between menu options at times Beneath it are the remaining controls for the audio system – all two of them: a volume and on/off knob, as well as an eject button for the CD player. Everything else is selected from the screen or the wheel repeaters. Dual zone climate control is operated by three round buttons for temperature settings and a series of buttons, which also operate the seat heater, all of which proved easy to use. It is the centre console which looks busy, with a turn wheel which is used to select from the various AWD modes, including low range, and from which you can alter the ride height. Behind these is the button for the electronic parking brake.
As standard there are no running boards to help you, so it is a bit of a clamber up into the Range-Rover Sport, certainly for someone of my height, with the extra ground clearance and the very raised driving position being very obvious even as you get in. Once installed, you need to adjust things to your desired setting. Needless to say, everything is electric. There are 16 way-postionable seats, with a number of buttons on the side of the chairs, and there is an electric column adjuster with the wheel telescoping in/out as well as up/down. There are three memory settings to record what you came up with. The seat proved supremely comfortable, giving the impression you really could sit on it for hours without feeling any regrets. Even with the standard panoramic sun-roof there is generous headroom, and with a wide range of adjustment, front seat passengers will feel very much that this is a luxury SUV.
The Range-Rover Sport may be a big car, but that does not translate into acres of space inside it. Set the front seats well back and rear legroom starts to look a bit on the tight side. The rear seat is shaped with two outer buckets and a central area which would be fine for shorter journeys, but with a shorter cushion, it may not prove as comfortable for adults as you would expect. The backrest area associated with this central part drops down to form a large table area type armrest with cup holders and a stowage cubby in the upper surface. Whilst the seat cushions are fixed in place, the backrests of the seats can be varied in angle from relatively upright to moderately reclined. There is ample headroom, and width is such that three burly adults should fit across the cabin without feeling squashed in. Rear seat occupants get their own air vents and climate control settings, as well as individual seat heaters and audio controls. There are nets on the back of the front seats and bins on the doors for their bits and pieces. You can order an optional third row seat configuration, though this was not fitted to the test car. It is understood that these seats are really only suitable for children.
Unlike the full-on Range-Rover, the Sport has a one-piece tailgate, which lifts upwards. It is a large and heavy item, but with electrical assistance to raise it and close it, it is not difficult to operate. The boot space is OK, but some people may feel that it should be larger given the size of the car. It is a nice regular shape, with a flat floor, flush with the bottom of the tailgate. There is a little bit of space under the floor around the spare wheel for odds and ends. A roll-back load cover is fitted. More space can be created by dropping the rear seats down. They are asymmetrically split 60/40 and simply fold onto the rear cushions, with the result that they do not fold completely horizontal, leaving an extended load area, but one that is not flat from end to end. Inside the cabin, there are plenty of places for odds and ends. There is a large glovebox, bins on the doors and a very deep cubby under the central armrest with a removable upper tray in it, as well as small area in front of the gearlever where you could put very small items.
As happens from time to time, it was only a few weeks after this test that I got the chance to sample a different version of the range. I had booked a Mercedes E Class Estate for a weekend trip to Munich,. but it seemed that Hertz Deutschland had none on fleet, so they supplied me with a Range Rover Sport instead. Finished in the same Santorini Black, which would prove to be even more of a photographic challenge than the US test car had been, this one was, unsurprisingly, a Diesel model. The badging said HSE Dynamic SDV6 on it, which means that it comes with a 302 bhp turbo diesel engine, and plenty of standard equipment. My initial inspection revealed a lot more rental car abuse than Hertz’ pre-rental damage sheet indicated, with scrapes around the lower front of the driver’s side, damage on all four of the 22″ black alloys, and various other paintwork blemishes caused by 24,000km of rental car service. The paperwork suggested it had been registered at the very end of December 2016, but further research indicated that the car was actually built in August 2016, meaning that it lacked the updates made for the 2017 model year. Despite its colour (and about 90% of the Hertz Germany fleet would seem to be black) and minor damage, I enthusiastically took it, looking forward to finding out what a slightly cheaper and more fiscally acceptable version of the car would prove to be like.
First impressions on pressing the keyless start button to the right of the wheel, once I had done all the adjusting of seats and mirrors and climate control and navigation (a non-trivial task doing all that lot!), was that this is a very refined diesel indeed. Even when cold, and starting it up, it does not really sound like one, and the impressions only get better as you move away. It pains me to say it, but this is a much better engine than the one in my Ghibli. Land-Rover have tweaked the power output a bit over the years, with the 2017 cars in SDV6 spec producing 302 bhp, and a stonking 516 lb/ft of torque. Both figures are significant, but the latter probably counts for even more than the former. It means that whatever speed you are doing, the moment you press the accelerator, you get lots of extra go. It might not be quite as brutally fast as the Supercharged one, but in everyday motoring, I don’t think you’re going to notice that much of a difference, until it comes to refuelling time. And that is the raison d’etre of the diesel, of course. After one day, I had driven 450km, and the fuel needle still showed over half a tank remaining. By the end of the weekend, I had brought this to 666km in two days, and when it came to filling it up prior to return, I put in 62.4 litres of Mr Aral’s stuff from the black pump. That computes to 30.2 mpg. Considering that quite a bit of the test mileage was done at Autobahn speed, this has to rate as good result, especially, as the A8 between Augsburg and Munich clears quite nicely on the Saturday afternoon, and I was able to get the Sport up to 220km/h. At that speed, it is very hushed inside, with just a bit of wind noise, and it was clear that there was quite a bit more to give, if only the traffic had been lighter still. You really won’t feel short-changed by the performance of this car, even if it is 200 bhp short of the power of the Supercharged.
Without a back to back comparison, it is hard to be sure how the other driving dynamics of the SDV6 compare to the Supercharged. This one came on massive 22″ wheels, the largest available on a Sport. Finished in black, they were definitely not to my taste, and probably would remind me more of the unfortunate image of the model’s predecessor, but they certainly did not seem to have a detrimental effect on the ride, which on Bavaria’s largely smooth road surfaces, was very comfortable indeed. My notes from this test about the steering and handling turned out to be more or less verbatim what I said of the Supercharged, suggesting that the main difference there is indeed the engine.
The interior of this car looked even better than that of the US test car. Much of that can be put down to the combination of Ebony and Tan leather on the seats and door casings. This is only available in HSE Dynamic, Supercharged and SVR models. Were I configuring a Range-Rover Sport for myself, I think this is the combination I would choose. Dynamic trim gives you a long list of standard features, most of them aimed at convenience and usability, and whilst you could live without most of them, if they are there, then why not? The panoramic sunroof, just with the cover open, brought a lot of light into the cabin. Soft close doors were useful when hopping in and out doing photos, and the electric operation of the tailgate, though a bit slow, was handy given the size and weight involved. Sound quality from the 23 speaker Meridian sound system was excellent, and I found the infotainment system on this test car was rather faster in operation than the US one had been. My trip across the middle of Munich would certainly have been more awkward without the navigation, and the traffic sign recognition was good at picking up even temporary speed restrictions on the autobahns. Heated seats and steering wheel are not things I would use very often and certainly not in May, but for Munich in the depths of winter, they could have their place.
There are quite a number of Range Rover Sport models available, though not every version is offered on all markets. US customers do get the diesel, but only in the less powerful TDV6, which uses the same engine, but detuned and with a lighter and simpler Torsen-based 4×4 system which saves complexity, cost and weight, as well as foregoing the Dynamic chassis. In Europe it comes in SE trim only, but Americans can also get the HSE trim with this engine. Next step up for European buyers is the SDV6, as tested here, whereas for Americans, it is a 3 litre Supercharged petrol V6 which puts out 340 bhp in SE and HSE trim and 380 bhp as an HSE Dynamic. Above this is the 510 bhp Supercharged version as per my American test car, which Americans can have in regular Dynamic and Autobiography trims and the top of the range is the 550bhp SVR. There are a number of recognition points between the models as well as relying on the badge on the tailgate. SE cars have a grille in Dark Atlas with a gloss back surround, wing vents with Dark Atlas fingers, Satin Black mesh and surrounds, and they come as standard on 19″ alloys and have a body-coloured roof. The HSE has front fog lights, a front grille in Atlas with a Gloss Black surround and wing vents with Atlas Silver fingers, an Atlas Silver mesh and Gloss Black surround, and a minimum of 20″ wheels as standard and the panoramic roof. The HSE Dynamic has body coloured side sills and bumpers and standard 21″ alloys. Easiest recognition point on the Supercharged are the red Brembo brake calipers and for the SVR, there are darkened headlights with a gloss black finish to reflective surfaces, an SVR rear spoiler, bright quad tailpipes, a special grille in Gloss Black painted mesh, Gloss Black wing vents, blue Brembo brake calipers, and a lower front bumper grille insert and splitter in Gloss Black, and inside you will spot Sports seats with an SVR pattern. The Autobiography has 21″ alloys, as opposed to the standard 20″ of the regular Supercharged model whilst the Supercharged Dynamic has a Gloss Black grille mesh and surround, fog light surrounds in Gloss Black and this finish is used for the badging on the bonnet and tailgate. Detailed differences that only a model aficionado is likely to remember. That’s only the start of the spec differences. There’s a 110 page book for US buyers which goes through it all in detail, and once you get through what is standard on each model, there are lots and lots of options, ranging from colours and alloy wheel design to interior trim, and lots of what Land-Rover call “personalisation options”.
Standard spec on all models includes: the 8 speed automatic gearbox; 4-wheel drive; intelligent stop/start; a full slew of electronic safety aids including electronic air suspension, cornering brake control, dynamic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist, gradient release and acceleration controls, hill descent control, roll stability control and low traction launch; all round power windows with one-shot and auto close; auto wipers and lights; an acoustic windscreen; privacy glass; towing preparation; a reduced section spare wheel; reclining rear seats; a leather wrapped steering wheel; auto-dimming mirror; front and rear armrests and cup holders; front and rear parking sensors; lane departure warning; cruise control. adaptive speed limiter device; keyless starting; an Infotainment system with InControl Apps and Navigation; CD/DVD player; Bluetooth, and AUX sockets in the front, rear and boot; Xenon headlights; 16-way power front seats with memory; power adjustable steering column; dual zone climate control; and a rear-view camera. HSE trim adds: front fog lights; a fixed panoramic sun roof; upgraded perforated leather seating; heated front seats; slightly different interior trim finishers; aluminium trim kick plates. The HSE Dynamic further adds: the Terrain response system; adaptive xenon lights; auto-dimming exterior mirrors; upgraded duo or tri-tone Oxford perforated leather seats; powered headrest adjustment; cooling for the front seats and heated rear seats; a heated steering wheel; bright sport pedals; tri-zone climate control; a Meridian Surround Sound system and the panoramic sun roof is openable. The main difference with the Supercharged is the engine, and you also get a Torque Vectoring by braking system, Terrain Response 2 Dynamic Program and All Terrain Progress Control. Step up to the Supercharged Dynamic and you get 21″ alloys and the other different appearance features already listed. The Autobiography gives you a two-speed transfer case, Auto High Beam Assist, soft door close and the appearance features also already itemised. The SVR does not seem to get additional equipment, the focus is on the engine and suspension, as well as the SVR specific trim. As far as the German test car goes, it would seem that the heated front screen and soft door close were optional features, as were the 22″ black alloys and the Santorini Black metallic paint.
I did discover one slight downside with the German test car, and that concerns its size. When I arrived at the hotel, I found out that it had an underground car-park, down a steep ramp, and noticed that the warning sign said that clearance was 1.80 metres. As the entrance gate did not look that generous and there was a space out on the side street by the hotel entrance, I decided not to risk it, and left the car outdoors. Research suggests that the Range-Rover Sport is 1.78 metres tall, with no indication as to whether this is on the standard 20″ wheels or not. That being the case, it meant that my initial guess was correct, and the Sheraton WestPark Munich’s car park and this car were indeed incompatible. Something to note, as there will be plenty of other car parks with limited clearance that will need to be avoided.
Be in no doubt, I was massively impressed by both of these Range Rover Sports. For sure, this is a big car, and even in entry level guise, it is not cheap to buy, with a list price of well over £50k. With a CO2 rating of at least 194 g/km, taxation costs will not be light either, and nor will running costs – those big tyres for instance – but providing your wallet and bank account can cope with this, I don’t think anyone who buys a Sport will feel disappointed. You do need to spec it carefully. 22″ black wheels and a black car like the SDV6 I had in Germany really do convey a certain image that many purchasers would wish to avoid (though others would positively relish!), but go for something a little more restrained and you have a car that goes well, is decently economical given its size and power, is good to drive, will go far off the tarmac, is comfortable, beautifully finished and well appointed. The latest models seem to last a lot better than earlier cars, with reliability levels improving (though the ever sceptical US Press are still not convinced), so the enjoyment should be longer lasting than used to be the case. It is no wonder that sales of Land-Rovers are booming and the company is struggling to build them fast enough to meet demand.